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Community Radio can strengthen the democratic process

14 March 2014

Ashok Kumar/OneWorld South Asia

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Community Radio stations should become a force for social and economic transformation, said, Iskra Panveska from UNESCO.

New Delhi: Even as Community Radio operators debated about ways to handle news content on the Community Radio at the fourth National Community Radio Sammelan in New Delhi, transparency and accountability were said to be the biggest challenges for the grassroots communicators. The conference is being organised by India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) in association with OneWorld Foundation India.

Supriya Sahu, Joint Secretary, MIB, said that the real empowerment is possible only when community does the social audit of the CR stations. Community Radio Stations should come forward to be open to social audit by the community, she said. “We are one among the 39 countries which have been ranked at the lowest rung in terms of ICT development. We need to look for the right kind of regulatory mechanism for Community Radio, once news becomes a reality for them,” she said.

Sanjaya Mishra, Director, Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA), said that the existence of community radio in India is largely based on the voluntary contributions of the society be it in terms of time or money. “Community Radio serves as a tool for learning and development.  Each CR station owes a sense of responsibility to the community it serves,” he said.

Iskra Panveska, UNESCO, said that the success of Community Radio is the result of joint partnerships of the different stakeholders. The Community Radio should be linked with the ability to empower communities.

Panveska urged the CR stations to become a force for social and economic transformation. “They should become an important part of the media landscape of this country as they can preserve the cultural diversity of this land,” she said.

Panveska said that CR helps in providing information on the developmental activities of the government to local people. It should further contribute for strengthening the democratic processes with the right kind of communication, she said. “We need to identify champion radio stations. These stations should share their experience with the upcoming stations,” she suggested.

Paolo Mefalopulos, Chief of Communication for Development at UNICEF in India, said that the role of Community Radio is not to give one voice to a community but many voices to many communities.

Ravina Aggarwal from the Ford Foundation said that Community Radio needs to respond to the needs of the community it works for.  CR can serve as a knowledge base of the community and go to the last mile no matter what other forms of technology and media we have at present, she added.

Ravina said that Radio can only work if we make it affordable. “My dream for Community Radio is that it will reach to far off places in a true sense. There is a need of good governance and regulation and we also need to remove cumbersome licensing processes,” he said.

Ravina suggested that Community radio should be the first platform for access to information and learning. Calling for a deeper community engagement, she said that sustainability should not be an issue for Community Radio if we go by the definition of the institution.

Ravina said that CR cannot have only advertisement driven news. Stressing on the need for diversity in content she said that community is not homogenous. “Not everything said in news would be liked by everyone.  Even the mainstream media or the public media has not been able to cater to the expectations of all the sections,” she said.

According to her sustainability is an issue because we are following one way of doing things. “We need to do things in different ways to deal with the challenge of Sustainability,” she suggested.

Naimur Rahman, Member, Board of Directors, OneWorld Foundation India, and Chief Operations Officer, ANSA South Asia and Global, impressed upon the need of merging Community Radio with telephony and mobile media.

Rahman added that community ownership of the station is the significant aspect of the sustainability of a Community Radio Station. “The big question is whether Community Radio stations have been able to improve the quality of primary education, changed the sanitation behaviour or brought about a positive change in governance in the areas they operate,” Rahman said.

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